Mike Kueber's Blog

September 23, 2011

Gotcha questions

Filed under: Issues,Media,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 7:35 pm
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The Urban Dictionary defines gotcha questions as “simple, straight-forward questions that cannot be answered by inept politicians.”  There’s a lot of truth to that tongue-in-cheek definition, and an example would be Sarah Palin’s assertion of “gotcha journalism” when Katie Couric asked her what newspapers and magazines she read to stay informed on world affairs.

A more conventional definition of gotcha journalism can be found in Wikipedia:

  • A term used to describe methods of interviewing which are designed to entrap interviewees into making statements which are damaging or discreditable to their cause, character, integrity, or reputation.  The aim is to make film or sound recordings of the interview which can be selectively edited, compiled, and broadcast or published to show the subject in an unfavorable light.”

The key to this definition is that it involves a journalist trying to make the subject look bad by using unfair questions or editing.  Palin never argued that Couric’s question was unfair, but she did claim that Couric edited out several substantive foreign-policy responses that Palin did well on, and retained the one where she stumbled.

I disagree with Palin on this – it would have been journalistic malpractice to edit out the failure of a stature-challenged vice-presidential to identify any magazine or newspaper that she read to keep up on world affairs.

A different form of gotcha question is one that comes out of “left field,” – i.e., one that you have never thought about.  During my congressional campaign, I fielded one of these questions during the taping of a public-TV interview in which I was given 90 seconds to respond to each question.  “What new programs would you support that enhance the ability of people who are currently living paycheck to paycheck to save for their retirement?”

I was dumbfounded.  The first part of the question focused on living paycheck to paycheck and the second part concerned saving for their retirement.  The question was further complicated because I was running as a fiscal conservative who wanted to reduce government spending, not create expensive new programs.  As you might expect, I stumbled badly, not wanting to be heartless, and mumbled something about improving the availability and effectiveness of the 401(k).

Last night Rick Perry fielded a question that came from even deeper right field.  He was asked what he would do if he was suddenly told about a rebellion in Pakistan that resulted in its nuclear weapons getting into the hands of terrorists.  Several pundits have acknowledged that this was a tough question (oh, really?), yet criticized Perry for stumbling with his response and mumbling something about the need to establish relations with all the key parties, including India.

Like the question to me, this question is probably something that Perry had never expected and hadn’t pre-formulated a response.  Worse, it was not conducive to an ad-libbed response.  If Perry were given a minute or two to think, or if he were afforded a lifeline (like on Who Wants to be a Millionaire), I’m sure he could have come up with something.

As I was on my bike ride today, twelve hours after the debate, the perfect answer came to me – I would immediately get on the phone
with Jack Bauer.

May 17, 2011

The gutsy call

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates is arguably the most respected American in public service, and he is preparing to resign next month after five years on the job of directing two wars.  Last night on “60 Minutes,” he had a quasi-exit interview by Katie Couric, the scourge of Sarah Palin.  Katie wasn’t as tough on SecDef Gates, whom she introduced by saying, “You are the ultimate soldier’s secretary.  

During the interview, Gates showed himself to be thoughtful and self-effacing, quite unlike his predecessor Donald Rumsfeld.  Everything Gates said made sense except his homage to President Obama for the assault on bin Laden.  In previous posts, I have suggested that the assault was a no-brainer, and blog readers responded that I was a rank partisan who refused to give credit where credit is due.  Add SecDef Gates to that camp of critics.

Gates, who has 30 years of public service and has worked for seven presidents, called the bin Laden mission one of the most courageous calls by a president.  He explained by noting that they weren’t even sure that bin Laden was in the compound – i.e., they had no direct evidence, only circumstantial evidence.  He also noted that there were consequences if the mission went badly.  And finally, there was the risk of lives.  Gates summed this up by saying, “It was a very gutsy call.”

If I had been Katie Couric, I would have followed up by asking, “If the call were so gutsy, so courageous, what alternative did you or anyone else suggest?  You have already said that, ‘Everybody agreed we needed to act and act pretty promptly.’  So if you needed to act, and the three options were to (1) send in SEAL Team Six, (2) bomb the hell out of the compound, and (3) get the Pakistanis to help with an assault, and you weren’t as gutsy and courageous as President Obama, which were you recommending?”

From the position of a Monday Morning Quarterback, it would be completely irresponsible to involve the Pakistanis, and bombing the hell out of the compound might risk those pilots and would leave an ambiguous inconclusive result.  The guts and courage belong to the SEALS.

April 10, 2011

Spinning the news

Reliable Sources is my favorite Sunday morning talk show.  Hosted by Howie Kurtz since 1998, the show examines the media’s coverage of important stories.  Coincidentally, Kurtz authored a book in 1998 titled Spin Cycle, in which he described technique used by the Clinton White House to spin his various controversies and scandals.

While watching Reliable Sources this morning, I learned that Glenn Beck, like Katie Couric earlier in the week, had been fired, although both of these sackings had been spun as voluntary decisions by these media stars.      

Bill O’Reilly likes to claim that “the spin stops here because I’m looking out for you.”  But on this occasion, O’Reilly was one of the guys who last week was spinning Beck’s departure like LeBron leaving Cleveland and taking his talents to South Beach.  Since watching Reliable Sources and doing some additional on-line research, it appears that Beck’s ratings have been falling precipitously, his advertisers have been deserting him, and his reputation as a messianic conspiracy-monger is damaging the FOX brand.  Thus, he was cut loose.

The Katie Couric spin wasn’t quite as deceptive.  Although some argue that she is moving on to better and more important things, most of her advocates eventually concede that her dismal ratings made her sacking inevitable. 

All of this suggests the importance of getting your news from a variety of sources.  Otherwise, your perceptions of the world, based on FOX News, might be diametrically different from those of the guy who lives across the street and listens to MSNBC or NPR.

November 18, 2010

Lisa Murkowski

Filed under: People,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 4:29 am
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Earlier today incumbent Lisa Murkowski was declared the winner of the Alaska Senate seat.  She had been defeated in the Republican primary by Tea Party candidate Joe Miller, but instead of stepping aside like Mike Castle in Delaware and Bob Bennett in Utah, she decided to run in the general election as a write-in.  Because the counting process for write-in votes is manual and because the vote totals were close, Murkowski had to wait more than two weeks to learn she had won the race.  She is the first write-in winner to the Senate since South Carolina’s Strom Thurmond in 1954. 

Murkowski deserves a lot of credit for standing up for moderates and refusing to leave the field to those more polarized on the left and right.  You may recall that Democrat Joe Lieberman did the same thing successfully in Connecticut two years ago, while Florida’s Charlie Crist was unsuccessful this year in Florida.

Ironically, Murkowski’s electoral victory has been overshadowed by some comments that she made about Sarah Palin earlier this week during an interview with CBS News’ Katie Couric.  Palin and Murkowski have been feuding for several years, and Murkowski appears unwilling to put it behind her.  According to news reports, she said the following when asked if Palin was qualified to be President:

  • She would not support Sarah Palin for president because Palin lacks the “leadership qualities” and “intellectual curiosity” to craft great policy.
  • “You know, she was my governor for two years, for just about two years there, and I don’t think that she enjoyed governing.  I don’t think she liked to get down into the policy.”
  • She prefers a candidate who “goes to bed at night and wakes up in the morning thinking about how we’re going to deal with” important issues.

These comments make Murkowski appear to be petulant and, perhaps, jealous of Palin’s rising star.  But when I watched the video of the interview, Murkowski sounded quite reasonable, especially if you consider that Palin defeated Murkowski’s father for the Alaska governor’s race in 2006 and then endorsed Murkowski’s opponent in the Republican primary. 

Personally, I’m not a strict adherent to Ronald Reagan’s 11th Commandment (never speak ill of other Republicans), but I believe it would have been appropriate for Murkowski to have side-stepped Couric’s question by saying that Palin is a capable politician and the American voters decide who is or isn’t qualified to be President.